The Week in Politics: Highlights From the Last 4 State Primaries of 2016

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | September 16, 2016

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Upsets in Rhode Island

Tuesday marked the end of primary voting for the year, but there was plenty of action in the four states that held contests.

In Rhode Island, only 18 incumbent legislators (out of 105 who were running) faced primary challenges. But a surprising third of them lost -- two senators and four representatives.

All of them were Democrats, and most of them were challenged from the left by candidates supported by Rhode Island Progressive Democrats and RI Working Families.

"Thank you @BernieSanders for fighting for us all these years, and inspiring me to bring the political revolution to RI," tweeted Jeanine Calkin, who ran Sanders' field campaign in the state and unseated state Sen. William Walaska.

House Majority Leader John DeSimone was the most prominent loser. He lost to Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a public school teacher. His loss came as a shock to Providence's political class. But DeSimone had been dogged by reports about late tax payments and was targeted by an anti-gun group. Some observers said he had also lost touch with his district, which he had represented since 1992.

Ranglin-Vassell won by just 17 votes, out of 1,377 cast. DeSimone has asked for a recount, which should take place Friday.

Given the low voter turnout of 10 percent, the question facing lawmakers heading into November is whether Tuesday's results were caused by anger against incumbents or simple apathy.

Chamber Control at Stake in New York

The winner of one Democratic primary for a seat in the New York state Senate might make it harder for Democrats to win back control of the chamber.

Labor organizer Marisol Alcantara won the party's nomination for an open Senate seat in Manhattan. But if elected, she said she would join the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), a rump group of rogue Democrats and Republicans in the Senate that have joined together to control the chamber. The IDC spent heavily in support of her.

"In the general election, the more seats Democrats win -- if any -- the less leverage IDC will have," said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College. "But they'll still hold the balance."

In another hotly-contested race in Manhattan, Yuh-Line Niou, a former legislative aide, came out on top of a six-candidate field in a Democratic primary for the Assembly. She beat Alice Cancel, the hand-picked successor of former Speaker Sheldon Silver. Cancel had won a special election in April to fill the seat Silver vacated following his conviction on corruption charges.

Two other Assembly Democrats from New York City were defeated. Carmen De La Rosa, a city council aide, beat Guillermo Linares, while Margaret Markey lost to attorney Brian Barnwell.

In one race, tragedy turned into a political oddity.

GOP state Rep. Bill Nojay killed himself last Friday, hours before he was due to appear in court on fraud charges. Nevertheless, Republican voters renominated him on Tuesday over New Tecumseth Mayor Rick Milne.

Party officials had been hoping for that result, so they could select their own candidate for the fall. Three county GOP chairs picked former state Rep. Joseph Errigo to run on Wednesday.

Gubernatorial Candidates Set in Final 2 States

Chris Sununu is the scion of a political dynasty in New Hampshire -- the son of a former governor and the brother of a former U.S. senator. It wasn't guaranteed, though, that he would be coronated in the GOP primary for governor.

In the end, Sununu came out ahead of state Sen. Frank Edelblut by roughly one thousand votes -- a margin of less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Edelblut conceded on Wednesday.

Sununu will now face Democrat Colin Van Ostern, who won his primary easily. Both men serve on the state's executive council. The race to replace Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is expected to be one of the closest in the country. (Louis Jacobson rated every governor's race earlier this summer.)

By contrast, the governor's race in Delaware is a gimme.

Democrats cleared the field for U.S. Rep. John Carney, who will be the odds-on favorite to replace Jack Markell, the term-limited Democratic incumbent. Carney faces GOP state Sen. Colin Bonini in November.

"Given Carney's high name recognition and favorability ratings, along with the traditional Democratic edge in Delaware, Bonini faces a rugged challenge," said Paul Brewer, research director for the Center for Political Communication at the University of Delaware.

Other Notable Primary Results

In New Hampshire, Shawn Jasper, the GOP state House speaker, barely won renomination. He ended up finishing eighth in a field of 17 contenders seeking 11 seats in a multi-member district.

Jasper took the leadership post last year with the support of Democrats. But this year, several outside groups --  including one founded by fellow GOP state Rep. J.R. Hoell -- sent out hostile mailings against Jasper.

In Delaware, Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams wasn't so lucky.

Williams lost his bid for renomination on Tuesday. In fact, Williams finished fourth, well behind former development official Mike Purzycki, who is now favored to win in November.

In Alabama, Joe Lovvorn, a firefighter and real estate agent, won the GOP nomination in a special state House election. No Democrat ran for the seat, so Lovvorn  is set to replace former Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was ousted following an ethics conviction in June.

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